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Microsoft claims biggest white spaces trial in world

Hopes trial network in Namibia will be template for nationwide coverage, to bridge digital divide

By CAROLINE GABRIEL

Published: 29 August, 2014

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Microsoft and Google are both championing the use of TV white space spectrum to extend affordable internet access in underserved markets, especially in Africa. As part of its efforts in this area, Microsoft and partners claim to have trialled the largest network in the world in this unlicensed spectrum.

The project is taking place in the southern African country of Namibia and is called Citizen Connect. Microsoft is working with the MyDigitalBridge Foundation and white spaces device maker Adaptrum, with support from local organizations Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and Millennium Challenge Account (MCA).


The partners aim to make this network, which covers 9,424 square kilometres in three administrative districts, a template for nationwide deployment in underserved areas. The pilot connects 28 schools and three regional councils - Oshana, Ohangwena and Omusati - in northern Namibia.

Only about 14% of the Namibian population is using the internet, according to ITU estimates, and the MyDigitalBridge Foundation aims to increase this and, as chairman Hylton Villet put it, to "facilitate appropriate private-public sector initiatives to ensure the underserved and unserved communities in Namibia are included in the technology landscape".

The project comes under the auspices of Microsoft's 4Afrika Initiative, which launched in February 2013. "Internet access is a fundamental pillar in Africa's leap forward towards a sustainable knowledge economy," commented the firm's general manager for Africa initiatives, Fernando de Sousa, in a statement.

Microsoft 4Afrika currently has pilots running in Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa and Ghana, and the Windows giant is also an active lobbyist for changes in spectrum regulation around the world, to support use of the white spaces. Various technologies, including the latest WiFi extension, and the 802.22 standard, are targeting this low frequency spectrum, which enables superior propagation and, therefore, economically efficient coverage of large areas of scattered population.

In the Namibian project, the offices and schools were connected, each with a link distance of 8-12 kilometers and typical speeds were 5Mbps to 10Mbps, using Adaptrum's ARCS 2.0 radios. The next steps are to enhance the network's operational efficiency and to trial video teaching, e-content distribution and peering between the connected sites, said the partners.

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